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Souvlaki comes from the Aegean and was baked at straws in Santorini before 6500 years! Sought-after delicacy was garon, a fine sauce of fish, praised by Sophocles and Plato...
What did the Greeks eat in 1600 BC .; The archaeologist Christos Doumas left for a while on the edge all the problems faced at Akrotiri on Thera and talked about the delights enjoyed by our ancestors 3,500 years ago.
The delightful conversation took place in May 2014 with Evanna VENARDOU from Eleftherotypia newspaper:
"We found many fruit remains in containers that were kept in homes. As the ash fell it carbonized and that is how they were preserved," explains Chr. Doumas.
"Those fruits were products of cultivation -So that’s how we have knowledge of the agriculture of that time. We found fava beans, lentils, barley (krithari)- in a jar full of ash we even found almond prints. We also found many crushed olive cores, so we can talk about oil production. We found a jar with snails, although those were imported! They were Cretan snails." But they also found a lot of figs seeds: "That was their sugar. And of course, the fig was their laxative! "(Smiling).
- Did you also find any fish remains?
"Within jars we found dried fish and fish bones. Actually, as we were excavating in deep layers for the foundations of the pillars of the shelter, we found garon (garum by the Romans). It is a paste made of fish, a delicacy for the Romans. The aristocracy enjoyed the best part of the fish, while the "plebs" and the army ate their heads, tails and fins. We found such a little jar which was a breakthrough as it proved that 1500 years before the Romans they were making it in Thera. It is certainly a characteristic of people who lives with and from the sea."
But the rarest delicacy was garos a fine sauce praised by Sophocles, Plato and Plinios made from fish insides and small fish (sardines, smelt) that were cured with thick salt and spread out in the sun for 2-3 months. The thick liquid they received from draining them was diluted with olive oil, wine or vinegar and was stored in gararion for sauce. In some areas, in fact, they only made garon from chub mackerel liver while the original recipe gave the idea for the anchovy sauce to Sicilian and Worcestershire sauce.
- Did they eat meat?
"We found plenty of bones from sheep and goats, a main kind of farming today in the islands, a few cattle (at the islands they can not breed large animals) and very little hunting (rabbits and migratory birds). But we found a lot of remains of sea urchins, clams, cockles and other similar seafood."
- Do we have any idea how they cooked all of them?
"We know that they had tripod cooking pots -which mean that, if anything, they boiled. However I do not think they made tomato sauce, because they did not have any tomatoes. Today we can we talk about the famous Santorini cherry tomatoes, but our tomatoes came from America! We also found pans and portable tripod ovens: Fire from above, fire from below and a pan with lid and small door. Kind of a crock pot with feet."
- What surprised you most of what you discovered?
"The Krateftes: where they baked souvlaki. They had notches and holes to circulate the air and not put out the coals. It was very ergonomic. At the edge of the head they had the shape of a ram and they ensured a healthy cooking, since the fat fell."
- That means that souvlaki is our dish. And yet, some people today still think it is of Turkish origin.
"Souvlaki comes from the Aegean. The Turks came in 1453 AD. I once had a conversation with an eminent Turkish archaeologist, the Hellenist Ekrem Akourgkal. And I was saying to him that we borrowed a lot from the Turkish cuisine, bringing as an example the meatball. And he tells me:
"You are naive. The Turks came here when they were nomads. They did not have a cuisine. They just adopted the Byzantine cuisine. Let's not kid ourselves: the word "keftes (meatball)" is not Turkish. It is the Byzantine word "kopton kreas (chopped meat)”. And indeed, I still remember my mother and grandmother cutting quickly the meat crosswise with two sharp knives making minced meat!"
- Are the excavations of Akrotiri the oldest evidence of what the Greeks ate?
"No. There are scattered findings from the Neolithic period (5th and 4th millennium BC) in Thessaly, Macedonia, Thrace. But in Akrotiri, thanks to the volcano, it was the first time we found so many gathered -and so well preserved. Just consider that in the lavas of Santorini there are inclusions of plants such as palm trees or olive trees dating back to 60,000 years BP. And they reveal a climate that does not differ from the current one. In early historic times, the 5th, 4th or 3rd millennium BC, people began to cultivate the same wild flora."
Εventually, the famous Mediterranean diet has very distant roots ....
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